Diana Sette, Daniel McNamara, and their daughter Rosemary, who attends Global Ambassadors Language Academy on Cleveland's west side.
Story by Justin Glanville Photos by Julie Van Wagenen
There are more than 170 public schools, both district and charter, located within the boundaries of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), and parents living in the district can choose schools across residential boundaries within the city.
“I think a lot of people are still unaware that they can look around for a place that’s right for their kid, but it’s so important to do it,” says Eloy Gonzalez. The father of five sends his children to a school in Ohio City even though the family lives in Tremont.
Empowering parents to choose where to send their children to school is part of the bedrock of Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, the comprehensive reform strategy to ensure every child in Cleveland attends a quality school.
This story is part of a series about how families chose their schools.
Daniel McNamara was skeptical at first about sending his six-year-old daughter to a charter school.
His perception of charters was that they were profit-motivated. That seemed at odds with how he felt public education should operate: completely in the interest of kids’ needs, without the added pressure of making money.
But when McNamara and his wife, Diana Sette, visited the Global Ambassadors Language Academy (GALA), a charter school in the Jefferson neighborhood on Cleveland’s west side, those misgivings took a backseat to the feeling that they’d found the right place for their daughter.
“One thing we liked was that a lot of the teachers have their own kids at the school, and those same teachers also provide the after-school care,” he says. “So it has a lot of the characteristics of a cooperatively run school, where the parents are directly involved in their kids’ own education.”
But there was something even more striking about GALA: The primary language of instruction isn’t English. Students hear 70 percent of their daily lessons in either Spanish or Mandarin, with the idea that they’ll eventually be able to speak the language fluently and enjoy greater versatility in their future careers and lives.
“It opens doors,” says McNamara, who lives in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood. “If you can speak Spanish or Mandarin with a fluent accent, there’s a whole planet open to you.”
His daughter, Rosemary, is a native English speaker in the Spanish-language track. But some of the school’s other students are native Spanish or Mandarin speakers whose parents enrolled them at the school so they could remain in touch with their heritage—while still learning English. GALA draws families from across the city and its suburbs, and from a range of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, another fact that McNamara and Sette liked.
Rosemary is now in her first year at the school. While she’s not yet speaking Spanish fluently at home, her teachers told McNamara she felt comfortable enough to answer them in Spanish as early as her second day in class. She also greets the family’s Puerto Rican neighbors in Spanish.
As far as Rosemary is concerned, though, the school’s main appeal may lie in the perceived edge it gives her over mom and dad.
“She’s got a pretty independent spirit,” McNamara says with a smile. “We think she likes learning stuff that Mama and Papa don’t know.”